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The Billionaire’s Typewriter

Matthew Butterick’s scrutiny of Medium reveals it to be “a form of hu­man frack­ing”:

In “Death to Type­writ­ers,” Medium in­sists that the type­writer is its “sworn enemy.” In cer­tain ty­po­graphic de­tails, maybe so. But as a de­vice that im­poses ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign, Medium still has a lot in com­mon with the typewriter.

In fact, its ethics are ac­tu­ally worse than the tra­di­tional type­writer. Why? Be­cause Medium’s ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign has noth­ing to do with lim­i­ta­tions of the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy (in this case, the web)… it’s a de­lib­er­ate choice that lets Medium ex­tract value from the tal­ent and la­bor of others.

Convenience always has a cost.

Naming Things

My contribution to this year’s 24 ways attempts to tackle one of the most difficult aspects of web development, naming things:

Working in-house may mean working with multiple developers, perhaps in distributed teams, who are all committing changes – possibly to a significant codebase – at the same time. Left unchecked, this codebase can become unwieldy. Coding conventions ensure everyone can contribute, and help build a product that works as a coherent whole.

Even on smaller projects, perhaps working within an agency or by yourself, at some point the resulting product will need to be handed over to a third party. It’s sensible, therefore, to ensure that your code can be understood by those who’ll eventually take ownership of it.

Put simply, code is read more often than it is written or changed. A consistent and predictable naming scheme can make code easier for other developers to understand, improve and maintain…

This is the fourth successive year I’ve been involved with 24 ways (including last year’s redesign), although this article rounds out a year in which I have been deliberately quiet in terms of writing and speaking. I don’t intend for that to be the case in 2015.

Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table

Mills Baker:

Much of the work for which we express the most enthusiasm seems superficial, narrow in its conception of design, shallow in its ambitions, or just ineffective.

A necessary critique of the state of design emanating from Silicon Valley. It would seem its best designers are putting lipstick on pigs; adding gloss to products that most people outside San Francisco neither want or need. Also, this:

Design is about solving problems that humans have, not problems that products have.

Fuel-Careful F1 Less of a Guilty Pleasure

John Leicester provides a considered view on the new energy-conscious regulations governing Formula 1:

F1 wouldn’t be F1 without excess. Fans worldwide wouldn’t tune in for world champion Sebastian Vettel driving a Prius. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone got fabulously rich with the sales pitch of bigger, faster, costlier, noisier equals vroooom…

But as road cars become more fuel efficient, with electric and hybrid-engine technology making increasing inroads, F1 needed to reconnect with its time or risk becoming an anachronism, racing on regardless the costs to the environment.

I’m loving the new-look Formula 1. Last season had become too predictable, not helped by the leading team favouring one driver. This year we have midfield teams challenging for podiums, and Mercedes allowing its two drivers to battle for the top step. As for the loudness, the squeal of locking wheels and the roar of expectant crowds more than makes up for the lack of growling V8s, however much the new engines sound like a dentist’s drill.

Cennydd Bowles on the Ethical Designer

Possibly the most important design talk you’ll hear this year:

For decades, the spaces we live in have been built by consensus. Planners, architects, councils, consultation; and always the watchful eye of the regulators and elected officials. But the world’s favourite digital spaces are largely in the hands of people like you and me. We have to oversee ourselves – and it’s not going very well.

Are we focusing on the right problems? Or just aggrandising the mundane? How do we know what the right problems are? How can we guide ourselves to appreciate the cultural and personal impact of the decisions we make?

It’s time for our industry to become ethically aware, if we’re to have a chance of doing the right thing.

Why I Want Bitcoin to Die in a Fire

More on Bitcoin from Charlie Stross:

BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind – to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions.

Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology

Alex Payne on Bitcoin:

Most charitably, Bitcoin is regarded as a flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment, one that has unfortunately attracted outsized attention and investment before correcting any number of glaring security issues.

To those less kind, Bitcoin has become synonymous with everything wrong with Silicon Valley: a marriage of dubious technology and questionable economics wrapped up in a crypto-libertarian political agenda that smacks of nerds-do-it-better paternalism.

Such criticism – that of the selfish logic behind the libertarian ideology prevalent in the Valley – will only grow louder in the coming year. Time to disrupt the disrupters, I say.

Andy Higgs: Journey into Africa

Although it’s easy to feel envious of Andy’s travels around the world, his writing is vivid enough to make you believe you had joined him. His latest series of posts, detailing a trip trough Africa, are no different. It sounds like an amazing continent, one that offers the intrepid traveller some incredible sights:

Great rich earthy trails of red, amber and ochre form streaks across huge plains of deep green foliage and scrubland. Huge white outcrops soar up through groves of yellow-pocked acacia trees, chunky bare-trunked baobabs and the fluttering sprouts of the banana plants…

Blade-like roads slice directly through villages where bright white eyes peer out from under the leafy shade of communal trees, and terracotta coloured, tin-roofed houses are lined up like matchboxes to each side of the varying qualities of tarmac – which range from rough to barely present.

Yet this beauty is threatened by a persistent danger, be it from wild game circling your isolated camp, or from fellow humans in a crime-ridden city:

It was repeated to me a few times that you don’t stop at red lights after dark in Johannesburg, nor do you drive with your windows fully up (it stiffens the glass which makes it an easier task to smash with a crowbar at an intersection). Security is a massive concern of daily life, and every brick built house squats in a concrete or iron-fenced compound, and comes with a big board showing which particular company will provide the armed response. It’s quite a strange sight for European eyes.

What an experience.

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’

Julian Assange reviews Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new book, ‘The New Digital Age’:

Google, which started out as an expression of independent Californian graduate student culture – a decent, humane and playful culture – has, as it encountered the big, bad world, thrown its lot in with traditional Washington power elements, from the State Department to the National Security Agency.

Exhibit A: PRISM.

Front-End Performance for Web Designers and Front-End Developers

Harry Roberts:

It’s hard, if not impossible, to deny that performance is by far one of the most critical aspects of any decent web project, be it a small portfolio site, a mobile-first web app, right through to a full-scale ecommerce project. Studies, articles and personal experience all tell us that fast is best.

If you’re a web developer (or designer) read this. Now.

The Trend Against Skeuomorphic Textures and Effects in User Interface Design

John Gruber:

The trend away from skeuomorphic special effects in UI design is the beginning of the retina-resolution design era. Our designs no longer need to accommodate for crude pixels. Glossy/glassy surfaces, heavy-handed transparency, glaring drop shadows, embossed text, textured material surfaces – these hallmarks of modern UI graphic design style are (almost) never used in good print graphic design. They’re unnecessary in print, and, the higher the quality of the output and more heavy-handed the effect, the sillier such techniques look.

John’s article forms part of a larger discussion about the possible emergence of a truer digital aesthetic. Flat interfaces, such as those seen in Microsoft’s Metro UI and the BBC’s GEL project are certainly fashionable, and thankfully, to my taste. Simpler interfaces are particularly suited to the web; high-fidelity interfaces can require a large number of image assets or many lines of CSS, reducing overall performance.

I’m not sure this trend has much to do with HiDPI displays though. I suspect, like most design movements, it’s just a reaction to what proceeded it. Skeuomorphism is to Art Nouveau what flat design is to minimalism. What goes around, comes around.

Be sure to read Max Rudberg’s counter argument, too.